John Thain will never forget his wastepaper basket.
As the financial crisis spread around the world last year, much of the press opted to focus on the $1.22 million that the Merrill Lynch chief executive had paid to refurbish his office.
But it was the $1,400 price tag for Thain’s bin that grabbed the most attention. It was a PR disaster that most companies have looked to learn from.
Perhaps not in China, though, where local energy giant Sinopec is going through its very own Thain-moment. And not for a wastebasket, either. For something perhaps even less useful: a chandelier.
The debacle unfolded after an internet forum revealed that Sinopec had paid Rmb12 million for the chandelier, as part of a Rmb240 million renovation of its headquarters.
The timing of the revelation was unfortunate as consumers have been grumbling about petrol price hikes.
But a Sinopec spokesperson then rather missed the point by insisting that the crystal and copperised-steel-plate chandelier had ‘only’ cost Rmb1.56 million ($228,000). “It’s quite obvious why the public is angry,” writes the Beijing News. “Even Rmb1.56 million is exorbitant for a chandelier.”
The Dahe Daily agreed, saying it was more than most Chinese would earn in a lifetime. It calculated the money would have been much better employed paying for 1,560 children’s primary education.
Sinopec is majority-owned by the state, and a company spokesperson highlighted that it was subject to a ‘strict appraisal system’ before getting the go-ahead for construction work.
The Oriental Morning Post gives this short-shrift too: “An appraisal system that can’t curb careless spending by SOEs, has to be full of loopholes.”
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